A Behind the Scenes Look at the Papal Visit

One of the people who follow my blog asked me if I would write a column about what it was like behind the scenes while covering the Pope’s visit to New York. I’m happy to oblige him.

The Friday morning session covering the Pope’s address to the United Nations General Assembly was the tough one, as we had to be outsiIMG_0771de the United Nations at 3:30 AM. I had been at the Cathedral the night before for Vespers with the Pope and didn’t get home till almost 10:00 PM, so I was a little on the tired side. We made our way to the press pod, which was simply a fenced off area of United Nations Plaza in which each news crew was given an area designated merely by a piece of paper on the fence. We all had to have credentials and wear them through the police checkpoint. Once we were inside, it was all makeshift work. The crew had been there earlier to set up our space and the cameras. We sat in folding beach chairs while off camera and munched on whatever snacks we had brought. The fun part was finding a bathroom to use. There were no port-a-potties, and eventually found a residential building that graciously allowed us to use their basement facilities: we were there until 1:30 PM. I at least had a lot of time to sit and even catch a few winks, but poor Mary Calvi had to stand in front of the camera almost the whole morning!

Mary gave me a heads up as to what topic she wanted to discuss in the next segment, so I was never totally caught off guard. We were being fed information constantly from the studio via Mary’s ipad, and we discussed when we would talk about each topic and who would say what. She also asked me to add any information I knew as a priest that could add to the discussion at that point, which we did smoothly. They liked when I threw in a little comic relief, such as when I said it was too bad the Pope came all the way to New York and couldn’t take in a Broadway show! I did NOT mention – although the thought did cross my mind – of what would have happened if he did and the controversial topless ladies tried to pose for a picture with him! (You have to exercise quick discretion when you are on live TV!) I’d worked with Mary Calvi before and we’ve developed a nice style together. But this was the first time we were live!

The crew

The CBS crew

Thankfully, the weather was warm and balmy. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the East River and a beautiful sunny day. This was the first time I had ever used the earpiece with the studio giving us info in our ears, even as we are talking. You really needed to be a multi-tasker and be able to continue what you are saying while someone is sending you messages in your ear. The messages varied from when they’d be getting back to us through when to end discussion. I got caught off guard only once: we had a TV in front of us so we could see what was being broadcast at the time. Of course, you can’t see it while you’re looking directly into the camera, and at one point I thought we were off camera and looked down at the screen, only to discover to my horror that I was still on and was now looking at the ground on live TV! Uggh! The only time I almost got thrown was when a woman from the crowd walked up to the fence behind me while I was talking on TV and started asking the reporter in the next row in a very loud voice where the bathroom was! I felt like stopping and yelling, “Hey! I’m working here!” Fortunately, I didn’t, as I don’t think the studio would have been pleased. There was a lot of down time when we weren’t on, and I got to know the crew very well. We became instant friends, and although I was exhausted by the end, I felt sad that I was saying goodbye to them, as they were such great people!


with Mary Calvi

The Saturday morning segment at the studio was standard office work: people were checking over schedules and text for the segment. I didn’t get a full view of what everybody did and how it made its way to the script for the anchors, but what I saw was a friendly office-like process humming along. On the set, most was about the logistics of how high my chair was and whether I was too close or too far away from Mary Calvi. Fortunately, during the stretches where I was not on the air I was able to leave the table and take a bathroom break. I did get one personal delight, though. Before I studied for the priesthood I studied meteorology to be a TV weatherman. I was able to stand at the weatherman’s post and pretend I was giving a forecast. Of course it was all off camera and during commercial break so that it never interfered with the production, but it was still a fulfilling moment. When I was finally finished and told I could go home,
it was so anti-climactic. There had been so much work building up to the Pope’s visit, and I made several new friends, but they still had to continue their work, and we could only get a quick goodbye. I did get official feedback from CBS afterwards saying that the response from viewers was overwhelming and positive, and they asked if I’d be willing to come back for future events. Of course I said yes!

After all was said and done, I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I was never so happy to get back to my parish and do the work that is my real vocation!

The Synod on the Family: Is Satan in Charge???

There has been much discussion on many different blogs, in different newspapers, and in various areas of the media over the Synod on the Family which is currently going on in Rome. Many people are hearing that one bishop said this or another bishop said that and beginning to panic and start already building their defenses in order to fight back. I would caution people against any premature hysteria. I think one of the dangers going on here is the readily available media coverage of the synod without any filter of understanding. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are bishops in the Church with varying opinions. It has always been this way; in fact, in the earliest centuries, the differences of opinion were sometimes so strong that they were met with fists, sticks, insults, and even banishment from their dioceses on some occasions. No society, no matter how holy, if it is made up of human members will ever avoid it. Those who somehow expect that all the bishops would get together with the Holy Father and that there would be not a single difference of opinion are living in a dream world. If that were the case, there would be no need for synod in the first place! What is critical is not what one bishop or another says, what one or another letter written to the Holy Father says, but ultimately the final decision by the Holy Father after the bishops have consulted with him. That is the only document that need concern us. In order for the Holy Father to be able to arrive at a good pastoral decision he has to be able to hear frankly and candidly from the bishops, as Cardinal Dolan told us he asked them to do and he and others who signed a letter to him before the synod began in fact did. To suggest otherwise would mean we’re expecting that the bishops would already come into the synod and simply say what the Holy Father wants to hear. Such a meeting would be useless. Therefore it is essential that bishops be able to state their opinions, even if they disagree radically with the opinions of others. There’s no way we can arrive at the fullness of truth about any issue without hearing from all the different nuances of the issue, even those who disagree with a belief or are against certain way of implementing those beliefs. So the day by day coverage of the media of everything that was said in trying to get leaked documents is counterproductive, as it leads people to think that because there is a bishop with an opinion that differs from that of another the church is somehow split asunder. Difference of opinion does not constitute dissent. Dissent would come into play if, after the Holy Father issues whatever decree he does from the synod there were several bishops who refuse to go along with it; that would be dissent. There is no indication at this point that any of the bishops are threatening dissent if the Holy Father doesn’t agree with them. So do not worry if you’re reading all the different stories that are being passed on about the synod. First of all, the reporters are not inside covering what was said, they are receiving materials handed to them sometimes secondhand. Also, many of the media that are reporting on the issues are not sufficiently trained to understand what it is that is in fact being discussed. My advice to everyone is to wait for the Pope to give the final document. That is the only thing that would have any authority over us and in any way representing any official teaching from the church.

An Alternative View of Catholic and Gay

Many years ago I counseled a young man who told me he had thrown himself headlong into the gay lifestyle, but eventually found it lacking and that it failed to provide the peace he though he would receive. I always knew there had to be others out there like him. Finally today, I came across a blog by someone who said the same thing. He gives a powerful defense of why the gay lifestyle failed him and how the Church is not wrong in not condoning homosexual activity. I encourage everyone to take the time to read his account, as it is a story that is almost never heard and is a refreshing new angle on what has become a worn-out discussion.

click here for the story

Young people to the rescue!!!

Having worked with young people throughout my ministry as a priest, I have discovered that youth spirituality is greatly underestimated. While yes, there are many teenagers that fit the stereotype of being rebellious people only interested in sports, sex, and drugs, that is certainly not true of many of them. Many teenagers are keenly aware of the real issues facing the world today, and some are not afraid of being heard. Witness, for example, the youth flash mob that took on a pro-abortion rally in defense of Planned Parenthood in Chicago. The Church is in good hands with young people like this! Way to go teens!

Click here to see the pro-life youth in action